Part of the reason that indie publishing is a slow burn is that there are a lot of brands for consumers to select from, and not a whole lot of differentiation to help them make their selections.
A lot of indie authors talk about the book glut in tones of dread and doom. I don’t really see it that way. As a reader and a writer and an inveterate lover of books, I have a hard time seeing more books as a problem. After all, as the number of books has increased, the readers have stepped up, particularly the really dedicated ones.
There are a few ways for readers to choose books in the indie space; one is genre, and another is the author name. I view these as being the two big differentiators. Genre is the big, obvious, easy one, and with the flood of books, online retailers have responded by making genre more granular, splitting books in sci-fi into subgenres to allow readers to fine-tune their search for desired reading material.
The author name is where things get a little more blurry and complicated. Each author name is its own small brand, each book from that brand offering the reader more of what they loved from that author.
The problem is, we as writers never know what you’re looking for. In fact, much of what you love about our work is for all practical purposes invisible to us.
So how are writers to compete?
With no way to predict how individual readers will react to the content of a particular story, our only choice is to fall back on quality. And this is at the heart of why the book glut should be seen as a boon rather than an obstacle.
If we had a limited number of books all of more or less the same quality (such as was the case before the ebook revolution), that eliminates a predictable differentiator. In the current indie publishing space, we’re seeing that a large quantity of low-quality offerings are being made available to the public.
I want to be clear, when I talk about quality, I’m not addressing the high-mindedness or the literary value of the book in question; I believe that the reader is the main arbiter of quality in that context. People have different reasons for reading, and if you want to read dinosaur erotica I’m not going to shit all over the literary value of dinosaur erotica, I’m only going to hope that you have access to the highest quality, most enjoyable dinosaur erotica that the market can provide.
What I’m talking about is the quality of production. That includes the design and formatting of the book, it includes the quality of the narrative (not the subject matter), it includes the quality of the text itself, and the beauty of the book in question.
There are stories out there good enough to trump the sins of bad covers and poor editing, and there are books that have succeeded despite these glaring flaws. But they’re not in the majority. Every time a reader has to stop reading a book to puzzle over confusing sentence structure or a badly misspelled word, that reader is removed from the magic of the narrative, and there’s a chance they’ll put your book down, perhaps forever.
So indie authors have a real chance to step up to the challenge of quality. We have the opportunity to create the best books we can, often achieving levels of quality that traditional publishers cannot exceed. There are so many resources available to make sure you’re producing good quality work, there’s no longer any excuse not to. And readers will be able to tell. I promise you that.
I don’t want people to think that this is easy; it’s not. There are a lot of authors out there producing enormous quantities of high-quality work. And brand building is a slow process in a space inhabited by thousands of small brands. But it’s a worthwhile exercise, and the dividends that your work pays will continue for as long as you put out work.
So stop worrying, embrace the book glut. The cream needs something to float on when it rises, after all.